"What this Country needs is not a change OF men but a change IN men" March 1980

Friday, January 18, 2008

How can we talk about the 2010 elections when Comelec hasn't cleaned up the mess it made of the last elections?"

Transparency in the selection of the new COMELEC chairman and commissioners and computerized elections in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, ARMM, in August, are vital to rebuilding credibility in the nation's democratic system and empowering people to choose their leaders, warns Senator Dick Gordon, a member of the Commission on Appointments and chairman of the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments and Revision of Codes and Laws.

Says Gordon: "Everybody's talking about the 2010 elections, when the Comelec hasn't even cleaned up the mess it made of the last elections. How can we talk about who's going to be president when we can't fix how they get elected."

Gordon's comments come as Malacanang considers a list of nominees to be appointed as Comelec chairman and commissioners. With time running out for computerizing the ARMM election in August, the challenge of finding competent people, with a high level of unimpeachable integrity is one that must be taken up immediately.

"The credibility of the Comelec hangs on who is selected and how. The electors have a right to that information. This is the 21st century, we cannot have these things decided by a secretive 'Star Chamber'. Our right to know is an essential component of our basic right of suffrage, to elect our leaders. If the Comelec chairman and commissioners cannot be seen to be chosen in an honest and aboveboard fashion, how can our people believe the elections will be carried honestly and above board."

The present Comelec, says Gordon, "has a track record of incompetence", citing, the botched billion-peso voters id project, the 1.3 billion peso MegaPacific deal struck down by the Supreme Court - for which the Comelec is still incurring massive expense and has yet to follow the Supreme Court's instructions to get its money back, the failure to implement the recently amended Automated Election Law for 10 years running, the Hello, Garci scandal, and most recently, the involvement of then chairman Abalos in the ZTE Broadband deal.

"Comelec isn't working", says Gordon. "The embarrassing Pimentel-Zubiri debacle still is not settled. Look at Sariff Kabunsuan, still without a governor after all these years. Our antiquated system has robbed those people of a basic right of representation. We need to drag Comelec kicking and screaming out of its tarnished ivory tower and put it to work to serve the people, not someone's hidden agenda."

Yet the Comelec has yet to shown any enthusiasm for fixing the problems with the country's electoral system, in particular, implementing the 10 year old law, recently amended, to automate the elections and provide electors with the fast, accurate counts needed to stifle vote rigging and dag-dag bawas.

So far, Malacanang has kept secret its list of nominees for these critical posts and its selection criteria. As a result, warns Gordon, the Commission on Appointments will put the selection under a microscope.

"We need a Comelec that is chosen transparently, people with integrity who are committed to transparent, open and credible elections. Our decision to accept or reject the nominees will be based on competence and track record, not favoritism."

The new chairman and commissioners must be committed to introducing automated elections, with the August ARMM elections as a proving ground.

"There has been enough footdragging, dramatics and scandals at the Comelec. Introducing automated elections has been law for a decade, but it's been flouted in every election since 1999. Just because its not easy isn't reason not to do it. It can be done for the ARMM elections if there is the commitment to do it. Whether or not it is done will be a reflection on whether or not Comelec is really committed to bettering the future of our people, or maintaining the traditional system of the past and the Spanish-era ills it represents. We want the right people for the job, the people who want to do the job, the people who can do the job."

"We don't have time to play games. When a doctor says you'll die in six months without medicine, you'd be stupid to wait ten years before taking the medicine," says Gordon. "We need to take our electoral medicine now and automate the vote, starting with ARMM in August."